Camino Portuguese: What I Packed And Why
Before I start writing about our 231 mile walk (371 Km) from Porto, Portugal to Muxia, Spain I thought I should tell you what I carried in my pack and why.
The best advice I can give based on two Caminos and an Appalachian Trail hike is pack light and know your boots. A light pack is easy on your body and makes hiking more fun. Whether you are walking the Camino Frances or Portuguese you will pass countless stores selling everything you need to make it to Santiago; when in doubt, leave it at home. And as for the boots, you should have hiked enough miles in them to know that they will not turn your feet into painful oozing stumps by day three or cause you to end your hike early.
The Camino is not a wilderness hike. Each day you will be able to buy food, wine, sun screen, another shirt if you are cold, etc. Typically a 1/2 liter of water with some licorice or bread and cheese carried me to the next town. On some long hot stretches between Lisbon and Porto I carried a full liter. Another advantage of carrying a small pack is it can easily be brought into a cafe or onto a bus without hassle. We did our Camino Frances between August and October and Portuguese between June and July, a twenty-two liter pack was the perfect size for us.
On the Frances the extra gear I needed for my non-Camino travels I mailed ahead to Iver Rakve in Santiago. He held it for about six weeks and charged me twenty Euros. (http://www.casaivar.com/luggage-storage-in-santiago-de-compostela/index.html). Iver is the founder of the Camino Forum. I carried it over the Pyrenees and mailed it from Pamplona because it was cheaper than mailing it from France and it did not have to go through customs. Without that gear I had 20% more room in my pack, but didn’t need it.
On the Camino you will be walking on sidewalks, asphalt roads and relatively smooth dirt and stone paths. That means you can hike in quick drying, lightweight boots. My feet are happy in Merrell Moab Ventilators. I have worn out at least four pair over a few thousand miles and have never had a blister problem. Boots being too small is the most common cause of foot troubles. Your feet swell as you hike, especially in hot weather. To make sure I don’t buy boots that are too small I slip two fingers in between my heel and the back of my boot. That extra room is necessary on descents to prevent my toes from striking the front of the boot and turning my nail beds black. My wife has bunions which requires a boot to be wider across the base of the toes, the Oboz brand works best for her. A pair of flip-flops is also nice to have since many alburgues require you to leave your boots at the door.
I would not take on a rugged path like the Appalachian Trail without hiking poles. But the Camino Frances and Portuguese are relatively smooth and gentle with miles of city walking, I did not find hiking poles worth the trouble.
When it comes to lodging most pilgrims will sleep each night in an alburgue on a mattress, so unless you are planning on camping I do not see a sleeping bag, pad or tent as a necessity. In place of carrying a ponderous sleeping bag I packed a Reactor Thermolite bag liner that weighed 8 ounces and compressed down to 3x3x5 inches. Despite being a “cold sleeper” I used the blankets provided by the alburgues only once or twice. Before I left home I treated my bag liner, stuff sacks and backpack with Permethrin and had no problems with bedbugs. Premethrin is an odorless product that kills and repels bedbugs, mosquitoes, and ticks for 42 days. You can spray it on clothing, packs, stuff sacks, etc.
The other thing to keep in mind is that every alburgue has a place to hand-wash and hang-dry your clothes, so you don’t need much clothing. I hiked in running shorts that had a built-in liner and a lightweight long sleeve Travel shirt. They dried quickly and the running shorts did not chafe like heavier weight shorts have. Washing my gear took about ten minutes and by morning everything was dry enough to wear again. The exception was my socks, I wore them to bed and by morning they were bone dry. Wearing them to bed worked much better than hanging them off my pack all day. On my Portuguese hike, while my clothes were drying, I wore a T-shirt and a pair of lightweight long pants. I slept in that T-shirt and a second pair of running shorts that I used exclusively for sleeping.
For outer wear I had an old Golite wind shirt, a Marmot Precip jacket and a mesh hat with a broad brim which caused some to ask, “Are you from Texas?” That’s all the clothing I needed for a June – July Camino Portuguese hike.
As for a travel towel I have gotten by happily for decades with just a bandana. I have found nothing rolls up smaller, has as many uses or dries quicker. For washing both my body and clothing I used Lush bar soap.
On my Portuguese hike I had no interest in staying connected, blogging or posting on Instagram. I carried a pen, notebook and a small Olympus TG-4 waterproof camera. I did carry an iPod Touch to check email, pay bills and make an occasional reservation. My wife used her iPod Touch with Google Voice and WIFI to call her 97 year old father in New York for free almost daily. One advantage of carrying a camera in addition to my iPod was that I always had enough charge to last all day. My wife used her iPod for both communications and photography, some afternoons it ran out of juice and she had to borrow mine.
I traded the fanny pack (bumbag) I used on the Frances for a shoulder bag on the Portuguese. In that bag I carried the things I wanted with me at all times such as my notebook, passport, iPod, camera, etc. When we stopped at a cafe I could quickly pull it out of my backpack and head inside.
All my gear was carried in one of three waterproof, Permethrin treated stuff sacks. I prefer them over pack covers. A fourth sack was my shave kit. Just before going to sleep two of the sacks were placed in my backpack and the third one (sleeping gear), along with the shave kit, were clipped to the outside. Clipping the stuff sack and shave kit to my backpack made leaving in the morning easy and forgetting something nearly impossible. It is common to forget or lose things around your bunk in the morning, it’s dark and you’re half asleep. People also forget gear in the bathroom and on clothes lines. A carabiner attached to my backpack with a foot of thin line allowed me to hang it from my bunk. That kept it off the floor and made it easier to pack . Most pilgrims will rise before dawn and on their way out you will hear them tripping over packs, clothing and flip-flops.
So that’s what I packed and why. A gear list is attached for those interested in more detail. I don’t know what all my gear weighed but my pack looked to be 1/3 to 1/2 smaller than most Camino packs. If you don’t agree with my hiking style don’t get your panties in a twist. It’s your Camino, do it your way and have a great time.
Gear List – (Backpack, bag liner and all stuff sacks were treated with Permethrin)
Osprey Talon 22 liter pack, Eagle Creek shoulder bag, Stuff sacks-3, Carabiner
Moab Ventilators Boots, Flip-Flops, Socks – 2 thin, 1 thick
T-shirt, Collared long-sleeve Travel shirt, Broad brim hat
New Balance Running Shorts-2, Light weight long-pants, Underwear-1
Marmot Precip jacket, Golite Wind Shirt, Bandannas-2
Shave Kit – bar soap, deodorant, Contacts/solution, tweezers, nail clippers, razor, tooth brush/paste
First Aid Kit – Motrin, Tylenol, Imodium, Tums, Antibiotics, Sun Screen
Neosporin ointment/Hydrocortisone Cream stored in contact lens case, Bandaids
Ear plugs, Sunglasses, Bifocals, Reading glasses, Needle/Thread
Sleeping-bag liner (Permethin treated)
iPod/cables, plug adapter, Ear Buds, Headlamp, Camera/charger with 3 batteries
Passport, Drivers license, Credit cards, documents, Money belt, Waterproof pouch
Notebooks (2), pencil, pen, Brierley guidebook
Ziplock bags, plastic knife, fork, spoon